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Title: L. E. Tommy Thomas
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Table of Contents
    Main
        Main
    Introduction
        Page i
        Page ii
        Page iii
    Main
        Page 1
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Full Text



COPYRIGHT NOTICE


This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Florida.

Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.

This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
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Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
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For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida









FP53sum


L. E. "Tommy" Thomas

This is an interview with L. E. "Tonnmy" Thomas, state chairman of the Florida
Republican Party. The interview was conducted by Jack Bass and Walter De Vties in
Panama City, Florida, on May21, 1974. The interview is from the Southern Oral History
Program in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library,
Chapel Hill.

pp. 1-2: Thomas discusses filing fees for campaigns, which is "almost kind of a public subsidy
of party organization." He feels that the Republican Party chairmanship in Florida should
eventually be a full-time, salaried position.

pp. 2-5: Thomas recounts his political background. He speaks humorously of trying to register
as a Republican in Birmingham, Alabama, where the Republican Party didn't exist on a local
level about thirty years ago. Out of frustration, lie voted in the Democratic primaries. The
Republican Party was only an organization on paper then. He cites a relatively unknown
historical fact: During the Civil War, an Alabama county, Winston County, seceded from the
Confederacy as a Republican county. Thomas recalls his term as regional coordinator for the
Republican Party in Alabama overseeing a five-county area, including Winston County. This
county presented the most problems for him because its residents wanted to assert their
independence from receiving government subsidies.

pp. 5-8: Thomas then covers the subject of getting involved in Florida politics. His participation
stems from his years in Alabama, a Democratic stronghold, and getting some Republicans
elected on the local level in his five-county jurisdiction, including a congressman. In the mid-
1960s, Thomas moved to the Florida Panhandle and found the Republican Party organization
dormant, hut Republican Claude Kirk was running for governor. Thomas became the party
chainnan for his county and soon after meeting Kirk, lie became party coordinator of all North
Florida. Thomas, however, soon became disillusioned with Kirk as a governor due to the
governor's antics and felt that Kirk tore the party apart.

pp. 8-11: Thomas praises Bill Cramer at length and calls him, as other Republicans do, the
"Father of the Florida Republican Party." Cramer was elected to the Florida House in 1954, and
that year may have been the beginning of the Florida Republican Party, according to Thomas. It
was Cramer who spread the Republican philosophy throughout the state and built up the two-
party systent Thomas cites examples of how Claude Kirk tore the party "asunder." One
example lie relates is Kirk trying to take control of the party machine by asking Harold Carswell
to run against Cramer for the U.S. Senate so Kirk would have his own mnan in the Senate rather
than better known and more respected Bill Cramer. The party split.

pp. 11-13: Thomas discusses Lawton Chiles's record in office as a state senator and calls it
"mediocre." He addresses the subjects of Republican U.S. Senator Ed Gurney's possible
indictment and the need to get some Republicans elected to the Florida Cabinet.









pp. 13-16: The interview then turns to Reubin Askew's re-election as a second-term governor.
Thomas states that 75 percent of Florida voters lean toward the conservative side, whether they
are Republican or Democrat. According to Thomas, Askew is not a conservative anymore,
citing, as an example, the governor's switch on endorsing school busing. Thomas also disputes
the polls on Askew's popularity. He feels that the Republican candidate, Jerry Thomas, will win
the election due to his strong county party organization. As for the fall congressional races,
Thomas feels certain that the Republicans will do well.

pp. 16-17: Thomas talks about the issues of the primaries being held so late in the year in
Florida, hut lie does not think that the late date makes much difference for political races. But
what concerns him is indifference to political races--in both parties. He says the Watergate
scandal set back the Republican Party in Florida.

pp. 17-19: According to Thomas, the George Wallace movement in Florida is strong. In a
hypothetical presidential primary, he feels that Wallace would beat Askew two to one. Thomas
again talks about Askew and speaks of the governor taking the opposite stance from his
conservative positions soon after he took office. He says Askew could not even carry his
hometown county today. Askew's downfall, as viewed by Thomas, has been the governor
surrounding himself with liberal and ultra-liberal aides. Thomas expands upon the "label" issue
and thinks that "Democrat"and "Republican" will become outmoded and replaced by "liberal-
labor party" and the "conservative party." A conscious Republican Party strategy will be to court
the conservative Democrats. He adds an anecdote about George Wallace, whom many referred
to as a conservative, but Thomas says that Wallace was really a liberal.

pp. 19-22: The interviewers then focus on names of those who could win the Republican
presidential primary in Florida in 1976. Thomas cites Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. He
compares Florida's party organization to other states, and lie feels that Florida's is the best,
except perhaps Tennessee's. Thomas says the reasons for the effective party organization in
Florida is the strong organization on the county level, especially the small counties.

pp. 22-23: Regarding the role of the Latin population in Florida, Thomas states that the party
lacks good leadership in South Florida and also points to the numerous rival political cliques
whose members are unwilling to form a cohesive political unit. He cites the differences between
the Cubans in Tampa and the Cubans in Miami and why they hold different political views.

pp. 23-27: Thomas says that the position of lieutenant governor is not necessary. As for Paula
IHawkins, lie thinks that she has a great political future, due, in part, to her building up a strong
organization--but she should be more cautious in her remarks. Thomas believes she could beat
Lawton Chiles in 1976 in getting elected to the U.S. Senate. He also feels that Florida is ready to
elect a woman to the U.S. Senate. He admires her tenacity and ability to work non-stop.

pp. 27-31: On the subject of the press in Florida, Thomas has mostly positive comments, except
for The St. Petersburg Times. Coming from Bay County in the Florida Panhandle--the old Pork
Chop Gang territory, Thomas reluctantly states that the reforms of the past eight years have been
good for the state, that is, reapportionment. But lie also feels that the Pork Choppers' influence is









still strong and doesn't want to cross their paths in a contrary way. He cites some examples of
the Pork Choppers still trying to retain their dominance, such as the controversial Green Belt Law
which refers to tree-raising land. He also covers the DuPont family's influence and money in
Florida and also that of the Florida National Bank.

pp. 31-32: Regarding the pending financial disclosure law, Thomas thinks that it may inhibit
many from running for office if they have to divulge their personal property, income tax returns,
and financial statements to the public. He feels that this type of information should be turned
over to a committee rather than broadcast it to the public.

pp. 32-34: Thomas details how the counties are so well organized through monthly newsletters
and active precinct committee workers. Thomas would like to see some blacks elected on the
Republican ticket but does not know how to go about it. He does not see any issue "that is going
to entice them to come into the party." He feels that the black vote is still "bought and sold in
North Florida" by the Democrats.

pp. 35-36: Thomas speaks of forecasting elections, many of which are accurate. He still holds to
his prediction that the Republican candidate, Jerry Thomas, will beat Askew in the November
gubernatorial election because Askew changed his stripes--conservative to liberal.

pp. 36-39: When asked why he took this non-paying, time-consuming job as Republican Party
chairman in Florida, Thomas says he wants to see a strong, conservative party and also to
establish two parties in this state, wlich would create a checks-and-balances system. Thomas
adds that lie would never run for office because he does not "really like politics" after having
experienced many confrontations. He confesses that he has even talked some people out of
running for office who wanted to get elected for the wrong reasons. To recruit candidates for
legislative office, Thomas says he would enlist a non-lawyer, non-insurance type of candidate
who is young and who has an open mind. He doubts if he will run for the state party
chairmanship again and vents Iis feelings about Governor Kirk splitting the party.





FROM THE r.o.W-.P., # 007
SOUTHER,1 HISTORICAL COLLECTION, THE LIBRARY OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL


5 (





This is an interview with L.E. (Tommy);Thomas, Republican state

chairman of Florida. The interview was conducted by Jack Bass and

Walter De Vries in Panama City, Florida on May 21, 1974 and was

transcribed by Joe Jaros.



Walter De Vries: Well, it's a good base to start with. I think that

it's, is it Florida and Georgia that have this?

Tommy Thomas: I can't say about Georgia. But doesn't Texas too?

W.D.V.: Texas too.

Jack Bass: Texas has it.

W.D.V.: What do you think about that? In a sense, it's almost kind of

a public subsidy of party organization.

Thomas: Yeah. Well, of course, I don't know how we would do without it,

but I think that the way we try to do it is a pretty fair and equitable

way. All the candidates who survive the primary, generally speaking, maybe

you could find some candidate that didn't get his money back, particularly

someone who ran unopposed, you know but since I've been chairman and

in the two elections since then, we've tried to give back all the candidates

who survive the primary their filing fee. I think that's a pretty fair

and reasonable way of doing it. Then, the people who are eliminated and

who don't have primary opposition, are paying a filing fee to really

support the party. We had a Congressman last year who was unopposed,


From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview 4-&0 in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
PUBLISH MUST BE REQUESTED. WARNING: MOST MANUSCRIPTS ARE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT.





page 2


Frey, so he donated his filing fee to the party, that's what it amounts to.

W.D.V.: So you think that it is a pretty good idea?

Thomas: Yeah, I think that it is an excellent idea and I don't think yet

that we are ready to fly without it. And the party, as I'm sure that Bill

Davis told you, we operate on a pretty damn frugal budget. I mean, we don't

throw any money away and we don't have any frills and we don't have an

oversized staff. We certainly don't spend a whole hell of a lot traveling

and entertaining and things like that, we just can't. And of course, I'm

unpaid. In the case of the Democratic chairman, you know, he's paid.

W.D.V.: Oh is he?

Thomas: Yeah. I'm sure that he's not paid enough, but I think that he's

paid $15, 000. But he's a part-time chairman just like I am. I probably

spend as much or more time at it than he does, but he's an attorney and

I can see where I mean, he should be paid, I think. And in all

probability, in the next three or four to six years, our state chairman

should be paid. He should be full time.

W.D.V.: Can you tell us a little bit about your political background.

How did you get involved in all of this?

Thomas: Well, being a Chevrolet dealer in this part of the state, I

don't go around carrying a card, you know, telling them with a sign that

I'm an ex-Yankee, but I grew up in northern New York, up in the part near

Buffalo. And of course, this was before the war and I joined the Marine

Corps in 1942 when I was seventeen and in the small town that I lived in,

everybody was Republican and the only people who were Democrats were the

people who wouldn't work. And this is true. You know, my Daddy thought it

a disgrace to be a Democrat. So, I married a girl from Birmingham while I


From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview /4-6 in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
PUBLISH MUST BE REQUESTED. WARNING: MOST MANUSCRIPTS ARE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT.





page 3


was in the Marines and was discharged in December of 1945. I had been

overseas twice and still wasn't twenty-one. So, when I turned twenty-one

in July, I went down to the court-house to register Republican and they

didn't know what the hell I was talking about. And they had to find

somebody who knew the probate judge, they had to get him and of course, I

was very insistent that I was going to register Republican and they said,

"Well, you can't. There's no such thing." And this was -a nice old fellow

and he told me, said, "you know, there's no such thing as a Republican

Party." They had to scratch their heads to find, to even think of .

W.D.V.: Where was this?

Thomas: In Birmingham. And finally, they said, "Yeah, there is a

Republican state chairman and he's the vice-president of Alabama Power

Company." And they told me where his office was. And he was the

titular head since then, I've found out that he is what we know

as a "post office Republican." I believe that the only reason that

man was a Republican was that if there ever was another Republican

administration, he'd get to name the postmasters.. Because, they had

no organization, none whatsoever. They didn't even have a paper organization.

And when I went to checking around,of course, being twenty-one years old,

these older people, the few of them that were Republicans, they weren't

anxious, they didn't want anybody and they sure as hell didA't want any

twenty-one year old smart alec, you know, helping them. They were polite to

me, but that was about the extent of it. I mean, they allowed as how they

didn't need any help from me, you know, and they had been running things

pretty well all these years and weren't bothering anybody or anything like that.

So, I lived in Alabama for many years and .






From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview R-t0 in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
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page 4


W.D.V.: Did you get registered?

Thomas: I got registered, yeah, but as a Democrat. But they said, "Look,

you're not supposed to vote in the Democratic primaries," and there again

I told them, "Well, if you open the damn polls, I'll be there." And of

course, the Democrats didn't like it because I voted in their primaries.

I voted. I told them that if they opened the polls I would damn sure be

there, and I was. Now, in the general election, of course, then you got

a different colored slip, you got a white slip or a blue slip in the

general election, but hell, I voted in the Democratic primaries for years.

And I lived in a couple of small towns and the Democrats didn't like it,

but you know, I was just kind of a pest.

W.D.V.: So when you came South thirty years ago, you looked for the

Republican party and their wasn't any?

Thomas: Right. I mean, there was a paper organization, but that's all.

There was no organization whatsoever. And the few people who were

Republicans, most of them had probably many years ago migrated from the

North, and they wanted a blood sample. I mean that really and truly, they

wanted your credentials to go way back prior.to the Civil War before they

would accept you as a Republican. And they were so negative, the people

that I found who were Republicans were really negative and it's no wonder

that they didn't attract anybody to the Republican party, because they

were "aginers." And I don't know whether you realize this or not, but

when you are in Alabama, you should research this, there is one county

in Alabama that seceded from the Confederacy. Winston County and it has

always been Republican. It's called the Free State of Winston. And

they are the orneriest damn people in the world and some of the finest.






From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview 4-4S in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
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page 5


But up there, they are the most independent thinkers that you have ever

seen. As we developed the Republican party in Alabama, I was what we

called a regional coordinator. I had five counties. Winston County was

one of my counties. Everybody in the Republican party said, "Oh, Tommy

is really lucky, he's got a Republican county." But I had more damn

trouble with those people, even thought the court house was controlled

by: the Republicans. But they were very, very odd people. A very poor

county, very low per capital income. But as independent as hell. You

know, they refused cotton allotments, cotton subsidies and when they

came along with the Soil Bank, they said, "Screw the federal government, "

you know. I liked their thinking, they were as independent as hell, but

they were also a little bit backward and they didn't keep up with the

times. And still, I asked the state chairman in Alabama a month or so

ago and it is still the same way. It's up on the Tennessee border, in

the TVA area, very unusual. But during the Civil War, they didn't let

the Confederate soldiers or the Yankee soldiers spend the night in the

county. They took up arms and ran their ass off, both of them.

W.D.V.: So, how did you get involved in Florida politics?

Thomas: Well, I had been active all those years, I mean in Alabama, so

in 1964, I lived in Bllnt County, which is the county bordering Birmingham.

I was a ehevrolet dealer and I had been a Lincoln-Mercury dealer in

Birmingham for nine years and had been real active in the party. And

the Ford dealer in Antiana, the little town I moved to with Chevrolet,

told me, I had been letting him have Mercuries and a Lincoln once in

awhile when he needed them and he told me when I moved to this small town,

he said, "When they find out that you are a Republican, nobody will trade

with you." And I said, "Well, I hope that it's not that way, but it's

too late for me to change, I've been a Republican all my life." And it


From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview 60 in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
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page 6


all the damn Democrats had told them. But it was as unusual as hell, now

this was 1962. People would come around, they would look around and make

sure that nobody was listening and say, "You know, I'm really a Republican.

I think like a Republican, but I'm a registered Democrat because that's all

you can do." In 1964, in the five counties that I had, I elected Republicans

in every county and in three of the counties, we tipped over the courthouse.

Coleman County, Alabama, which is the home of the former governor, Big Jim

Folsom, who was still a tremendous force, had a brand new courthouse.

Now, it wasn't the fact that we had such a great organization, but we did

have a good organization. But the fact that the people had been used to

voting a straight ticket and because Goldwater was the head of the

ticket, they walked in and flipped the Goldwater switch and all of them.

And we elected the highest elected official in Alabama, which is a probate

judge, we elected the probate judge in three of the five counties that I

had and elected a Congressman. A very good Congressman. He'd still be

up there if he hadn't dropped out and ran against Lurleen Wallace, which

was a tremendous mistake. I mean, there was no way that anybody would be

able to beat her. A man by the name of Jim Martin. So, immediately after

that, everybody thought that.I was crazy for moving to Florida because we

had had such a Republican sweep. We cleaned out the courthouse in Blount

County and you know, it was unheard of, people didn't believe it. But we

had found that there were good Republicans there, most of them were in

business. I had a man who was in the chicken business, raises millions of

chickens a year and he agreed to run for probate judge and he was a very

good one. So, we went a long way toward making those counties Republican

and that was the best five Republican counties in the state. And then the






From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview /4-O in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
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page 7



Chevrolet dealer here got killed in an automobile wreck and it was

a bigger and better deal, so I moved down here. I got here and there

are still no Republicans in this part of the state to speak of. We

are outnumbered here six to one in the county, but I met with a few

Republicans that were here, a very prominent lawyer who was the county

chairman. The organization was dormant, but we had a fellow by the

name of Kirk running for governor, I'm sure you've heard of him. And

we had a meeting to select the county chairman for him and they were

about to select a Democrat. And even though I had only been here a

short time, I said, "Hell no, that won't work. You'll never build an

organization by doing that." I went to Tallahassee and met Kirk,

because I wasn't going to support him if I didn't know him and didn't

like him and didn't think that he could do the job. I met him, liked

him and came back and took the job as his county chairman and then in

a matter of a few weeks, I took the job as coordinator of the whole

northern section of Florida for Kirk. And of course, as you know, he

was elected. And it is a crying shame that he was the kind of a guy

that he is. I mean, personally I still like him and get along fine

with him, but in my opinion, he set the Republican party in Florida

back a hundred years. Because he really didn't have the philosophy

and didn't believe in the things that we believe in. He was an

opportunist. You could flip a coin and he would take either side, he

was an attorney, he'd take either side of an argument either time and

he was an egomaniac. And the day that he was sworn in as governor, he

started to run for vice-president and he did some of the damnedest

things that anybody has ever done. And as a consequence, he tore this

party asunder. Just raped and ruined it and it just makes me sick every


From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview I-SO in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
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page 8


time I think about it.

W.D.V.: Specifically, how did he do that?

Thomas: Well, he was .

W.D.V.: I've heard that before, but I just ..

Thomas: Yeah, well, the worst thing he did we had a guy in Florida

who in my estimation deserves more credit than anybody for building the

Republican party in Florida and starting the two party system really

fervently in the South, because he went all over and spoke. He was in

Congress for sixteen years, his name is Bill Cramer. He's a Washington

attorney now, has offices in Washington and Miami. And at our state

meeting a week from this Saturday, we are going to honor him by naming

him the Father of the Florida Republican Party. He's one of the finest

Congressmen that ever went to Washington, one of the most brilliant. I

mean, he graduated from Harvard Phi Beta Kappa. Just a great guy, just

a brilliant lawyer, probably knows more about Congressional rules than

any man alive. And still a great assest to the Republican party because

he was chairman of the rules committee at the '72 convention and he is

legal counsel now for the RNC under rule 29, which I'm sure that you are

familiar with. Just a great guy, but anyway, after he got out of the

Navy, finished at North Carolina, graduated with honors there, went to

Harvard to Law School, came back to Pinellas County, his home, and

served a couple of years as a city judge or something like that. Then

he ran for the legislature and was elected to the Florida house, the

first Republican. I believe that it was 1954. He served a couple of

terms in the House and then ran for Congress .

W.D.V.: Would you say that 1954 is really the start of the Republican

party in Florida?




From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview 4-4~ in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
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page 9


Thomas: It would almost have to be, I mean, because you know .

W.D.V.: Because we were looking at registration today and Bill gave

us the figures starting in '54 with the elections, that's the time that

the Republican party started in this state.

Thomas: I would say that just looking at the figures, I think that they

had more or less the same kinds of Republicans here that they had in

Alabama, maybe a little better, but most of them came from other states,

Wisconsin, Michigan and .

W.D.V.: I didn't mean to interrupt you, I just wanted to ..

Thomas: No, that's all right. I haven't looked at the data and been

able to really see, but I would say that it would probably have to be

about '54. Well, to get back to Kirk, Cramer was in Congress, very

successful, well liked, very well respected, author of some of the best

legislation that has ever been put on the books. He had a water

pollution bill concerning Tampa Bay way back in, I think that it was

1956, '58, 'way before Ralph Nader ever heard of pollution, ecology.

Just a great guy. And he worked like hell building the party. He

went all over the state, all over the South preaching the Republican

philosophy. And he helped our senator now, Gurney, was the mayor

of Winter Park, he's a native of Maine. And Cramer helped Gurney get

elected to Congress, campaigned like hell for him and everything else.

And in 1968, when the Democratic senator, Smathers, got in trouble over

the Bobby Baker deal among other things, and decided not to run for

reasons of his health the old saw down here was that "it was

because of his health. Everybody was sick of him." And he didn't run

and a very liberal Democrat won the primary, Leroy Collins who had been

Johnson's representative at the Selma march and that was the kiss of death




From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview /4-0 in the Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill. FOR REFERENCE ONLY: PERMISSION TO
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page 10


right there, so Gurney was elected to the senate. So, coming up in two

years, in 1970, Hyland was not going to run again, and the

Democrats had a big field and the deal was that Cramer would support

Gurney in '68 and Gurney would support Cramer in '70. And this idiotic

governor that we had wanted to be kingmaker and at the same time Carswell

was turned down for the Supreme Court nomination and Kirk got the big idea

and talked Gurney into it, it was Kirk's idea and Gurney should have been

smarter, but Kirk said, "Here's a natural born winning man, we can't lose

with Carswell, the people in the South are all upset because Carswell

didn't get the nomination." And Carswell was going on about his own

business, in fact, he was on his way down to the Keys somewhere on

vacation and Kirk had the Highway Patrol stop his car on the turnpike

and bring him back to Winter Park and they had a crash meeting with Kirk

and Gurney and Carswell and they talked him into running for the Senate

against Cramer in the primary. And it split the party wide open.

J.B.: Hadn't they already picked out another candidate before Carswell?

Thomas: Yeah, but he was very weak, Osburn.

J.B.: I mean, they were going to run somebody anyway, against him.

Thomas: Kirk was, yeah. But Gurney wasn't involved in it.

J.B.: Why was Kirk so het up on running somebody against Cramer?

Thomas: Because Cramer was .

J.B.: Jealousy?

Thomas: Yeah, jealousy, you see, because Cramer was still the daddy of

the Republican party. Cramer was much more highly respected than Kirk.

And Kirk wanted to take the Republican machine. Kirk never won an election

in the Republican committee. Not one. He tried to elect the president of

the YRs, he tried all kinds of hanky-panky in the party and he never got off


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page 11


the ground as far as the party was concerned. He was rebuked at every

turn. So, as a consequence of them getting Carswell in there, and of

course, Cramer beat the hell out of him in the primary, but then people

were split wide open. And then some of the Cramer people got on the

Eckard bandwagon against Kirk and that was a very bitter primary and

there were a lot of harsh things said that couldn't be retracted after

the primary was over. And so we were split wide open and of course,

Askew beat Kirk much more decisively than Chiles beat Cramer. Chiles

still beat Cramer by something like 120,000 votes, but Askew beat

Kirk by something like a quarter of a million votes. But it was

nonsense, because actually Chiles was a very, very mediocre state

senator. He had a very mediocre record and he came up with the

gimmick of walking the state and it caught on. But if anybody had looked

at his record in Tallahasee, hell, he never would have been elected to

the United States Senate.

J.B.: How would you compare Chiles as a state senator with those whose

names are now being projected in the Democratic party to run against

Gurney, Pettigrew and Horne and . Stone, who is not in the senate

but was .

Thomas: Chiles hasn't got anything. You know, he's kind of blah.

J.B.: How would you rate him against those three guys?

Thomas: You mean being efficient, or as a campaigner?

J.B.: As a state senator.

Thomas: I think that all three of them are much better state senators

than he. They used to have to wake him up and tell him how to vote.

You know, it came around time to do it and they would have to wake him


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page 12


up in the morning and tell him how to vote. He was very mediocre. Stone

was a good state senator, he's a good secretary of state. Home, of course,

is a very astute politician. Works, you know, has boundless energy and

ambition and all of us kind of laughed when he said that he was going to

retire. I mean, what are you going to do after you have been speaker of

the house and president of the senate, you know. But everybody knew that

he would run for something, because he is just a political animal. And

Pettigrew is another hard worker. I think that all three of them were

much better state senators than Chiles. I don't think that there is any

comparison.

W.D.V.: So, you think that that election of 1970 set them back a hundred

years?

Thomas: Yes, it really did. That may be stretching it a little bit too

far, but we were going great guns. It was really going. The party was

coming along in good shape and then the big split. And see, the sad part

about this, here we are four years later and we still have some of those

old wounds. When I was in Pinellas County yesterday, spoke twice,at the

Clearwater Women's Club at noon and the men's organization at night, and

of course, that's Cramer's home county, but the feelings are still very

deep. They'll never forgive Ed Gurney for it. Never. Because they are

the older Republicans,in Pinellas County, and you know, the median age

there is very high, a lot of retirees, and a lot of them have been active

in the party for many years, you know. And they just aren't about to

forget it.

J.B.: What's the outlook for Gurney this year?

Thomas: Well .

J.B.: Assuming that he doesn't get indicted.

Thomas: Well, honestly now, you are not going to use this until

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page 13


after the election are you?

J.B.: No.

Thomas: Well, even if he doesn't get indicted, I don't see how he

can win in 1974. Because I've said, and I believe this fervently, that

this year, I don't care whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, if

you've got a book past due at the library, you are in deep trouble.

I mean, any incumbent who has got any blemish on his record, who has

been in any kind of hanky-panky, anything like that, he's going to have

a problem, if he has a qualified man running against him who brings it

out. I mean, it ought to prove to our benefit as far as the state is

concerned, because there are so many Democrats, particularly in the

cabinet, you know, who are involved in these scandals. And if we don't

elect two or three people to the cabinet, there's not much hope for us.

Hell, we'll never have a better opportunity than we've got now.

J.B.: Askew would be pretty tough though, wouldn't he?

Thomas: Askew would be tough except for one thing. And I think that

this is the way we are going to run the campaign 75% of the

people in Florida, or close to that, are conservatives and it doesn't

matter whether they are registered as Democrats or Republicans, they

are still conservatives. If we prove, and this is going to be our

campaign, we can prove that Askew is not a conservative. He ran as

a conservative and he was elected as a conservative, but the day after

he was elected, he started bending to the left and he has gone too far

to the left. The vote in Florida against busing was about 80% and

Askew endorsed it. Now, a lot of people say that busing is not going

to be an issue this year, but I'll tell you-right now,.it damn sure is.






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page 14


It's going to be a big issue. It's going to be a big issue in lots of

states and it's sure going to be a big issue in Florida.

J.B.: But yet his popularity the Atlanta Sentinel had that poll

last month, I think and ..

Thomas: But their poll was a Mickey Mouse poll. The poll that they ran

was not a real legitimate poll. Because one of the pollsters went to

Senator Gurney's office down there and said, "Look, I took the poll in

this area and the people that I polled and talked to, the results that

I got are not the results that they are showing. Now, Senator Gurney's

aide down there is pursuing it to see, you know, what happened. In fact,

he went to the Orlando paper and pointed out to them that here was a

person that took the poll in this area and said that, "Look, this is

what I turned in and this is not what was published in the paper." So,

somebody bent the statistics on it somehow.

J.B.: Did they respond to that?

Thomas: No, they haven't.

W.D.V.: So, in short, because of the climate, the environment, you see

that it is going to be tough for Gurney .

Thomas: I think that it will be very tough.

W.D.V.: And equally tough for the three cabinet members who are mder

indictment or being investigated by the grand jury .

Thomas: Almost impossible.

W.D.V.: And you see the weakness of Askew with the fact of his busing

stand and the general move to the left. Does that pretty well summarize

it?

Thomas: Yeah, plus the fact that we have a very, very good conservative






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page 15


candidate running as a Republican. He was Democratic president of the

senate, his name is Jerry Thomas, no relation of mine, but a great guy

and a dyed in the wool conservative with an outstanding record and he

works like the devil. Campaigns hard and has been building an organization

for over a year and he has the best organization right now, five months

before the election, he's got the best organization that I have ever

seen. He's got the most people. And that's what it takes. And he

has done it quietly, a lot of people don't even realize that he has such

an organization. He has organized every county, it doesn't make any

difference you know, we have eighteen counties in Florida, I

believe it is, with less than a hundred registered Republicans, but he

has an organization in each one of those counties, and obviously, they

are not Republican. He's gone in and gotten Democratic conservatives

on his steering committee. And he's done a phenomenal job and I'll

tell you right now, remember, I'll bet on it, I'll put money on it, that

he'll win. Because, listen, things haven't changed that much in 110

years since Abraham Lincoln told us how to do it in 1854, find the

Whigs, be sure they are registered and be sure that you get them out to

vote. And that's what this guy:is doing. He's finding the people who

are sympathetic and he's building an organization. And Askew's going to

try to do it with the press and with PR and I just believe that the way

that Thomas is doing it this year is the way that is going to win.

J.B.: What do you see as the outlook on the Congressional races?

Thomas: All four of our incumbents will win and we will pick up one

other seat. The Fifth District, there again, we should have had it in

'70, '72. It was a new district, it's a Republican district, but we

got involved in a bitter primary and when the two guys got through calling


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page 16


each other sons of bitches in the primary, then they couldn't get their

people back together in the general election. And we should have won it.

This year, we have two fine candidates running, both of them high type of

men and they have agreed to run for the seat and not against each other.

And therefore, I think that we will win the seat. It's the one that

Gunter is vacating.

J.B.: Do you think that the fact that the primary is held so late in

Florida hurts either party in contested races, I mean, that it is bad

for party politics?

Thomas: Oh, I don't know. You know, I've heard all kinds of arguments

on both sides and I don't know. -I don't think that it really makes any

difference. You know, the thing that scares me-more than anything now

is the apathy in both parties, I mean, the distrust that people have in

general. You know, in the primary in Indiana, what two weeks ago,

in Indianapolis, eighteen per cent of the people turned out. My God'

If that's any signal as to what to expect in November, that will be

tragic. There are an awful lot of people who are turned off, an awful

lot of party people who are. who in the past, you know, have really

been good workers and who are now really turned off.

J.B.: You think that the effect of Watergate is a temporary thing?

Thomas: Well, what do you mean temporary? I think that we will get over

it in a few years, but I think that it will probably take the next

presidential election to straighten it out.

J.B.: How much has that set the party back, South-wide?

Thomas: A lot. It set us back a lot in Florida. This fellow, Jerry Thomas,

switched on December 7, 1972, a month after the general election. We had a






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page 17


whole bunch of other Democrats scheduled to switch and you know, we were

busy, preoccupied with the inauguration and everything, on Cloud Nine

and weren't really concerned about it. Everybody was tired from the

'72 campaign. We could just visualize that '73 was going to be just

a hell of a good year for us. Then, you know, the can of worms started

opening up right after the inauguration and of course it has hurt.

J.B.: How strong is the Wallace movement in Florida?

Thomas: Very strong.

J.B.: Let's assume for a minute that Askew gets elected, for the sake of

my question. If he gets re-elected and then runs against Wallace in a

presidential primary in Florida, which would be only Democrats voting, how

do you think he would come out?

Thomas: How would Askew come out? Well, things would have to change an

awful lot for him to do any better, Wallace would beat Askew in Florida two

to one. I think that Wallace is that powerful here. That's why I say

that Jerry Thomas will beat Askew, because we are just going to prove to

the electorate this fall that Askew is not a conservative. No way is he

a conservative and as of right now, and I don't know what your brother

tells you in Pensacola, but Askew couldn't carry his home county right now.

And naturally, he was their darling in '70. They put up a lot of money for

him, a hometown.boy and nobody thought that he had a chance. But he

could not carry his own county now.

W.D.V.: Why not?

Thomas: Because they fear that he is a turncoat. That he has forsaken

them. And he has in many ways not just he has made some

tactical blunders besides his philosophical blunders. The tactical

things are that he doesn't return calls to people that supported him when




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page 18


he was running. They can't get tosee him. The attorney right here in

this county who was his county co-chairman wrote a hot letter to him

and released it to the press, because he was disappointed in his liberal

leanings and wrote him for an appointment and didn't even get an answer.

So, he blasted him in the paper, all over the state. He has not done

his homework and one reason that he hasn't done it is that he has

surrounded himself, his staff there is only one conservative on

his staff. That's a man by the name of Harvey Cotton. The rest of

them are very liberal and the guy who is giving him the most trouble

now one of his press men is an old aide, a fine man by the name

of Moose Harling, from Pensacola. But he doesn't have any clout. The

man who is running the show there now is a man by the name of Don Pride,

who is an ultra-liberal reporter from an ultra-liberal paper, the most

ultra-liberal paper in the state, the St. Petersburg Times. And Pride

is running the show. And it is damn sure going to kill him.

W.D.V.: Do you see the two parties realigning themselves along liberal

and conservative lines in this state?

Thomas: I see them doing it nationally. I see it happening in this state

and I think that within another four to six years you can almost throw

away the labels "Democrat" and "Republican." I think that we will be

just about like they have been in England. I think that you will have

the liberal-labor party and the conservative party.

W.D.V.: Will that be the basis for building Republican strength?

Disaffected conservative Democrats?

Thomas: Yes. It has been for .

W.D.V.: I mean, is that a conscious strategy by the party?

Thomas: Oh yeah, sure. Hell yeah.. We've been wooing the conservative

Democrats and telling them that they are in the wrong party ever since I've

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page 19


been here. I've been trying to convince the people on the local level,

but they come back and say, "All right, leave me alone. I'll give you

money and support you, but let me vote in the Democratic primaries and

I'll get two shots at a guy. If I don't like him, I'll get one at him

in September and another at him in November." I've been trying to

convince them that they should realign now, but as long as the Democrats

control all these courthouses from Jacksonville to Pensacola, it's hard

to get them to switch. But you know, if there is a grand realignment .

you are talking about Wallace and while you are in Alabama, you can find

this, you probably already know it and probably know more about it than

I do, but I lived in Alabama when this happened it tickles me in

a way, I mean, it tickles me funny-like, it's not a damn bit funny, but

Wallace has got people convinced that he is a conservative. But he's not

a conservative. He switched in 1958, he was the most liberal minded man

in the Alabama legislature. And he ran for governor against a man named

John Patterson who was elected strictly on his father's shroud, if you

want to put it that way, because his father was assassinated, but when

Patterson defeated Wallace, Wallace made the statement that, "I will

neve be out-seged again." He did a 180 degree turn in one day, he

didn't do it gradually, he did it in one day. And you know, you can

tell the people from his hometown down there, you can tell the people

from Montgomery and they've already forgotten it. And they think that he

is a great conservative, but hell, he's not a conservative. He's a political

opportunist. That's true.

J.B.: Who do you think would win a Republican presidential primary in

Florida in '76, looking the field over now?

Thomas: In Flordia? Reagan definitely would. Ford in all probability, if




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page 20


he chooses to run, he could carry it. Reagan could definitely win,

probably Connolly could beat any Democrat. And that's about as far as

I would go. In Florida, I don't know how Ted Kennedy would do, but in

Florida, the leading Democrat that is being spoken of now would be

Jackson. Because Jackson is closer to the philosophy of the people of

Florida than any other Democrat that is prominent.

W.D.V.: How do you think that the Republican party in Florida compares

with the party organizations and candidates in the other southern states?

Thomas: I think that we are way ahead of most of them. Maybe excluding

Virginia, but from what I've heard about Virginia, their organization is

not too good. I think that we've got the best party organization in the

South. I think that Texas is coming along, you know.

W.D.V.: How about Tennessee?

Thomas: Yeah, excuse me, I forgot Tennessee. They have an excellent

organization mainly because of you know, which came first, the

chicken or the egg, but with two senators and a Republican governor,

they've got to be doing something right. But you know, Tennessee has

historically had, you know, even since the Civil War, Tennessee has had

a strong Republican party in the eastern part of the state. Almost

rock-ribbed. I think that Tennessee has got a better organization than

we have. Georgia and Alabama, Louisana Mississippi has got a

funny kind of an organization, the oddest that I have ever seen. Did

you say that you have been there yet?

W.D.V.: We've seen Clark Reed.

Thomas: You've been there?

J.B.: Yeah.

Thomas: He's got the damnedest, you know, Clark has got a kind of a little




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page 21


clique thing. You know, I didn't know him very well and the kid didn't

know .but when he elected two Congressmen, he screwed up. Because

up until then he had been the kingfish. I mean, every damn pork barrel

that they rolled out in Washington, Clark Reed opened it. I mean, he

had more patronage in Mississippi than we ever heard of in Florida, you

know. And that irritated the hell out of me to tell the truth. But

he was on the inside on everything. But now that he has got two

Congressmen, they are sharing it with him, you know. He has diminished

his power somewhat.

W.D.V.: Why is the party stronger in Florida? Is financing one reason,

or something else?

Thomas: No, I think that it is the philosophy that we have and in having

the counties organized. And in some of the states, they have a central

committee and that is all, I mean, you know, that's the end of it. They've

got a lot of talk and all, but particularly since, and you know, I'm

not taking any credit for this, it's just what I believe in. I'm real

old fashioned. I think that if you are going to win, you have to have

every county organized and that's what I've tried to do, even with the

little counties. I've probably spent more time working in the small

counties than any chairman they have ever had. In fact, I'm probably the

first one that ever spent any time, but we have tried to get the small

counties. Because I know that it can work, I know that it can be done.

Because I have seen it in Alabama and I tell them, "Look, I'm not telling

you something that I read about, I'm telling you something that I saw

happen." And you know, it's funny what one guy can do with a county.

You get one good guy in the county that dares to stick his head up and

if he is a good man, it is fantastic what he can do. We have a young

state senator in Tampa, in Hillsborough County, one man. His father


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page 22


died, his father was a rare individual, a rare character. He was elected

to the state senate, he had been dean of three or four law schools, a

tough old bastard. But very well respected by everybody and he died in

office and his son was appointed and then ran for the job and was

re-elected and we are making headway in Hillsborough County, in Tampa.

J.B.: Who is that?

Thomas: David McLean. And largely because of this one man. It is a

very Democratic county.

J.B.: What do you perceive is the role of the latin population in

Florida and particularly the Cubans in Dade County?

Thomas: Well, that's a strange thing. They can be a great help to us,

but truthfully, we lack some good leadership in the Cuban area down there.

The problem that I have with them, and they are very devout but they are

peculiar people. And they tell me that this is the way they did it back

home, you know. In Dade County, at one time we were registering before

Watergate, about 85% of the Cubans registering were registering Republican.

Now, it's about 60 40%. We've dropped off quite a bit. But the

trouble is that there are about four big cliques and then there are about

eight minor ones, so there are a total of about twelve cliques. And if I

go into the county and have lunch, they call me, and the leadership in

one clique wants to see me and if somebody else in one of the other cliques

sees me even having lunch with these other guys, oh my God, you know,

they are calling and raising hell and wanting to know, "What have I done

wrong? What's wrong, you don't love me any more." And all this, I

tell them that that doesn't have anything to do with it. I have simply

met with these people because they asked me and there are no deals with

them or anything. They are always afraid that somebody else is going to




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page 23


get a little power. And I understand that was the way that it was back

in their homeland, you know, they had all these little cliques and were

extremely jealous of one another. If we could ever get them to pull

together and there are some very intelligent people down there.

I mean, hell, you know, we've got a lot of lawyers and doctors and bankers

and some excellent people. But they know that the big problem they have

is the petty jealousy. If they ever decide to all pull together, they

will be a hell of a force. But it is going to take some strong man to

come along and grab the leadership and truthfully, right now we don't

have it. We have a guy down there that I like very, very much and he

is the one that I trust the most. He is a stock broker by the name of

Jose Casanova, but he can't get them all together.

J.B.: They have the potential to be a significant political force in

this state.

Thomas: They certainly do. You know, I'm sure that you are aware of

this, but the Cubans in Tampa and the Cubans in Miami are two distinct

different breed of cats. The Cubans in Tampa, most of them are Democrats.

They are second and third and fourth and fifth generation Americans, you

know. And they are Democrats. They have been steeped in the Democratic

party politics of Hillsborough County. And the Cubans in the Miami area

are completely different. Most of them have been here less than twenty

years, you know. I don't know what the percentage is, but there are a

lot of brand new ones and they are completely different from the Tampa

variety. But boy, you are right, if they ever decide. And I have been

trying to tell them that for a couple ofkears. But you know, you have

got to have one strong man.

J.B.: Who is the leading potential candidate for lieutenant governor

among the Republican candidates?

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page 24


Thomas: For lieutentant governor? Well, I don't know. You know, there

are so many people that I think would like to have it and are kind of

courting Jerry Thomas, but I have stayed out of it. I think that should

be his prerogative, I mean to pick the guy that .



(end of side A of tape.)




Thomas: will do the job. And I kind of think that it wouldn't

be too bad strategy to have Thomas campaign and have the guy on the

ticket say, you know, "If I am elected, I am going to ask the legislature

to abolish the job." This would be 1978 before they could do it, you

know, but I don't think that a lieutenant governor is necessary. I

mean, I think that in the line of succession, it could go to the

secretary of state and something like that, somebody who is elected

state wide. Not the president of the senate, because he is only elected

from one district.

J.B.: The way that it is in this state, it sure doesn't have any functional

duties that we can discover.

Thomas: No, we've been paying this asshole all this year for doing

nothing. He hasn't had a job since he was called before the house for

impeachment last year. The governor removed him from his duties. He

doesn't even cut ribbons.

J.B.: What kind of future do you see for Paula Hawkins?

Thomas: A fantstic future. If she gets some very confident help, I think

that she has got some more confident help. I mean, personally, I would

hope that she wouldn't be quite as quick on the trigger. She's a brilliant





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page 25


woman and a hard worker and a hard campaigner, but she is a little bit

inclined to shoot from the hip and that can get you in trouble. But

she is probably the best thing that we've got going for us right now.

Because she has been grabbing headlines for over a year and just works

like a beaver. Every time that they have a hearing in a town, she

schedules a luncheon speech to the Rotary and the Lions or something

like that and then meets with the local Republicans at night, so she

is building a hell of an organization. I think that she would be our

best chance to beat Chiles in '76. As of right now, I think that she

is the only one that I know of that could beat him.

J.B.: You think that Florida is ready to elect a woman to the senate?

Thomas: Yeah, I think so. I mean, she is the first woman elected in

Florida in a hundred years and next to Nixon, she got more votes than

anybody has ever gotten in Florida. She got a million and a hundred

and fifteen thousand, something like that. More votes than Askew, more

votes than Gurney, more votes than any of them.

J.B.: I would think that she is a pretty tough campaigner.

Thomas: Oh God, she's tough. And work! You know, she's a have

you talked to her yet?

W.D.V.: Yeah. Today. She said to say hello.

Thomas: Did she? She's. did she tell you that she is in the vitamin

business?

W.D.V.: Someone else told us that she was in health foods.

Thomas: Yeah, did she try to sell you any?

W.D.V.: No.

Thomas: Well, she should have. I tell you, she puts out these little

packs, five or six of those damn little things in little celophane


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packs called "Something Great." It is fifteen dollars a mark, they send

you these thirty little sacks and you take one every morning and I get

tired of taking the damn things and forget to take them about half the

time, but I'm convinced they work. And she takes them and sends them

all over the country to her friends. And I have never seen anybody that

can work as hard as she can. God Almighty! I mean, you know, you would

think that sometime, someway, she would run down. But she was my

co-chairman in the Nixon campaign and at the same time, we got her to

run for the public service commission, so she was doing both things at

the same time and she never got to bed before midnight at the earliest,

and boy, at six o'clock the next morning, she was just as bright and

chipper as anybody that you have ever seen. And ready to go again.

W.D.V.: Disgusting! It really is.

Thomas: Yeah. And she doesn't drink or smoke and cuss. She is a very

devout Mormon and Jesus, I don't know how she gets her kicks except

loving to run and loving to tear men's asses up. She is a little bit

too quick with that knife sometimes, you know. And I am afraid that

sooner or later that will get her in trouble, because she is so sharp

and she comes back so fast that somebody is going to bump into somebody

that sets her up, you know. She kind of got set up last week if you

read the papers. She has been a bank director for three or four years

and a year ago her secretary puts out three or five hundred letters

a week, she says. but she wrote a letter to the FDIC asking them to .

she wrote it on the Public Commission stationery ..

W.D.V.: I read that.

Thomas: Oh God, that was a super colossal blunder. She shouldn't have

even written it on her personal stationery, but she damn sure hadn't

have written it on the PSC stationery. And for the first time, see, she


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page 27


has had a honeymoon with the press for a year, and for the first time, they

said, "Uh-oh, she's not a housewife from Maitland, she is a tough politician."

When you start trying to block bank charters and using Public Service

Commission stationery to do it and telling how many businesses you regulate

and so forth they took it a little bit out of context. Reading the

whole letter wasn't as bad, but it is the first severe rebuke that she has

had. I agree with what she said in a lot of ways. You know, we don't have

branch banking in Florida, but we might as well have it. Because we are

getting too many little banks. I mean, you know, we have got banks in

places like Orlando that are like the Seven to Eleven grocery store.

And that doesn't make sense. You know, you can have too many of everything.

As Odando found out, they've got too many motels. Way too many.

W.D.V.: How is the press in this state, say the state capital press?

Thomas: I think that generally speaking, very good. We only have one

bad paper, and that damn thing, I'm telling you the truth, it's unbelievable.

The St. Petersburg Times. I mean, God Almighty, how they twist things.

I really think that they are unfair and I think that it is the only one

in the state that's unfair. The Miami Herald is pretty damn liberal, but

I think that they are fair. It's a Knight newspaper and like your

Charlotte Observer, but I think, you know, they do a good job, they have

been on Gurney's back for a year, but they've had something. Now, they've

been awfully repetitive about it, I mean that they have kicked the same

damn old mule, they warm him up every week, you know. Every Sunday they

take the same thing and hash it over again, you know and from that standpoint,

I think that they have overdone it a little bit. But generally speaking, I

think that the Miami Herald is generally fair.


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page 28


W.D.V.: How do you feel about all the legislative reforms that have been

made in the last eight years?

Thomas: Of course, coming from this part of the state, I'm almost taking

my life in my hands, 'to say it, but you know, they were long overdue. And

for God's sake, I had better cut off right there and don't quote me on

this. Because I've still got to sell Chevrolets in Panama City. So don't

quote me, but you know, for years and years what was called the "Pork

Chop Gang" controlled the legislature, until they had reapportionment.

And boy, they didn't let anything get through that they didn't want to.

And so, they held the populist areas of the state down, for many years.

But boy, many a guy has been frozen out up here for making that statement.

One poor guy .

W.D.V.: Is it still that strong?

Thomas: Yeah, oh yeah. Yes sir. One poor guy here was a television

announcer and he took the campaign for a candidate from South Florida, it

must have been for a cabinet post or something, having no idea that they

would have a tape campaign show of this guy's speeches made down in South

Florida and there he was raising hell about the "Pork Choppers." And boy,

they froze this guy out. Just because he was the guy's campaign manager.

He had no idea about how the guy felt about it, you know. But here he

was on local television raising hell about eh "Pork Chop Gang." And oh

man, they are still tough. Another thing that we don't talk about up

here is have you ever seen the green belt map of this area? Are

you familiar with what I'm talking about?

W.D.V.: No.

Thomas: Well, I wish that I had one, you ought to have it. I can mail it


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page 29


to you. But they have in the Chamber of Commerce here, one guy in the

restaurant here, I think that is about enough to do it they had a

map printed of Dade County and he showed in red and green and yellow and

white so that it knocks you in the eye, 87% of the property in this

county, I believe it is, is under the Green Belt Law. And the Green Belt

Law, I mean, it's not agriculture land, it's tree raising land. And

maybe since you have been in the state, you have heard in the last week

or two St. Jo paper company, are you familiar with them?

J.B.: Yeah.

Thomas: See, they own everything in Florida. They are in the Flotida

National Bank. Mr. Ed Baugh was the administrator of the DuPont estate,

the Florida East Coast Railroad that stayed on strike for how many years?

They own millions of acres of land in north Florida. Millions. They

own hundreds of thousands in this county. They wouldn't sell a damn inch

of it, nothing. That's one reason that real estate, the little real estate

that is available here now is so high. And they have land, what they are

trying to do in the Chamber of Commerce here and in the legislature, anything

that is within 600 feet of the beach, take it out from under the Green

Belt Law. They pay no taxes. I mean, they are supposed to be growing pine

trees and they've done it and they do a great reforestation job, but some

of this land is prime land, worth, you know. Anything worth $10,000 an

acre damn sure shouldn't be under the Green Belt Law in my opinion. But

I don't go around hollering that, because they could put the freeze on me

just about as much as on anybody, being in the retail automobile business.

But I will mail you a copy and you will see what I'm talking about. There

is so little land here, it's owned by International Paper Company, Hunt

Oil Company, St. Jo Paper Company and St. Regis.


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page 30


W.D.V.: It's all exempt?

Thomas: Yeah. It's not total.

J.B.: No, it's .

Thomas: About a quarter an acre or .

J.B.: It's assessed on the basis of .

Thomas: Of agriculture.

J.B.: Of agriculture on this land classification. Right?

Thomas: It's certainly a rip-off. And see, it goes all over from

Jacksonville to Pensacola, many, many counties, that's all you have is

pine trees. And I'm not knocking that, but they ought to pay a fair

share of the tax burden. And we ought to have pine trees, we've got to

have paper and that's all that some of this land is good for, you know,

is going pine trees, really. But when they get down and get waterfront

property, good God Almighty, that shouldn't be under the Green Belt Law.

W.D..V.: Somebody took care of them.

Thomas: Yeah, way back. And they are fighting tdhang on to it.

But Mr. Baugh, you.ought to interview him, if you could get an interview.

Florida National Bank I've forgotten the well, I don't know,

a hundred banks, something like that in the state. All the small towns

have a Florida National Bank. All the DuPont estate in Miami, the downtown

area, DuPont Plaza you know where DuPont Plaza is down there? All

that land around there belongs to them. I mean, they just have billions

of dollars. He's eighty something years old. Wouldn't give a nickel to

see a pissant eat a bale of hay, you know. An ornery old bastard, but

he's a pretty good old fellow at the same time, but you ought to get an

appointment with him in Jacksonville and go talk to him. I bet that he

would see you if you could .




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page 31


J.B.: Didn't he lose a lot of his power after reapportionment?

Thomas: Yeah, he had to lose some, you know.

J.B.: But if he hadn't lost it, they never would have passed that

corporate income tax would they?

Thomas: That's right. He lost some, but he's still powerful.

J.B.: But in the old days, almost anything that he said went, right?

Thomas: By himself, yeah, I mean, one man had that much power.

J.B.: Didn't he have the reputation pretty much of just controlling the

legislature?

Thomas: Yeah. Because he could do it in so many ways. I mean, you know,

he owned some of these guys lock, stock and barrel.

J.B.: And then just being smart on top of that.

Thomas: Real smart. But you know, when you come to Port Saint Joe, or

Perry or Chipley or Bonifay or name the towns across there, every one

of them has got a Florida National Bank. The only bank, in most cases.

And some guy is running for the legislature or something and he's got

a gas station or a drugstore, you better believe that they did what the

hell he wanted them to do. It wasn't just north Florida, he had a lot of

that control all over the state. And he had some big people, too.

J.B.: Are those days gone forever in Florida?

Thomas: I think so. I really do.

J.B.: Well, this disclosure law as it is passed, will it be a hinderance

in sofar as recruiting candidates?

Thomas: Well, it depends on what form it is passed in. You know, what I

wish that they would do, I think that there ought to be some kind of disclosure,

but you know, I would like to see a bi-partisan committee set up with, you

know, some top people on it that would look at the tax returns, have them

file a statement, but you know, an awful lot of people aren't going to run


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page 32


for office if theyhave to divulge all of what they own and everything. I

will tell you, in the climate that we are living in today I had a

daughter that just graduated from college Sunday out of Queens in Charlotte.

And she did television commercials there for us for several years, beginning

when she was about twelve years old. And did a fantastic job, it really

worked. But it scared the hell out of me, I was afraid that some crazy

son of a bitch would kidnap her or something, you know. And I think, I'd

hate now I mean, I wouldn't mind at all giving somebody that I

trusted, some judge, or some bi-partisan panel, I would be glad to turn

over my income tax returns, and my financial statements to them, but I

would sure as hell to put it in the paper. Because I would be inviting

all kinds of kooks to shoot at me from all different angles. And I think

that a lot of people feel the same way. If in the original form that

they had two or three weeks ago, where they were going to ask committeemen

and committeewomen, hell, if they did that, we couldn't get a committeeman

or a committeewoman, if they had to file a financial disclosure. Hell,

we have enough trouble getting them as it is. And if they had to do that,

I don't figure that the Democrats or the Republicans, we wouldn't have been

able to get them to do it. I think that they have pretty well got them

eliminated from what you are talking about right now.

J.B.: When you talk about the Republicans being well organized as a

party, say in this county, to what extent are they organized?

Thomas: Well, they probably have precinct committeemen and committeewomen

for, oh probably, 35 or 40% of the precincts, which represent probably 75

or 80% of the votes. Some of the small precincts where there aren't

very many votes, we may not even have a Republican living in the precinct,

you know. Or maybe just have one or two. But we have them organized enough


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to where we keep them informed on what is going on, who our candidates

are, what the issues are and what the other side has done that we

consider wrong. We put out a monthly newsletter to them, I don't know

if Bill showed you one of them or not, but we try to keep them informed

on what is going on in Tallahassee, what is going on in Washington. And

then come election time, the people on the county committees organize

the campaigns for all the candidates that we have, and we haven't had

that many statewide candidates in the past, but they know that we are

going to have this year and in the future and it gives a candidate a

good strong base to work from.

J.B.: Are there any elected black Republican officials in Florida?

Thomas: No, not that I know of, except on county committees. We have

several of them serving on county committees, in Palm Beach County and

Broward County in particular, but I don't know of an elected black in

a county commission job or something like that. In fact, we don't have

many black Republicans in Florida.

J.B.: How do you approach that situation?

Thomas: You know, I wish I knew how to approach it. I've been very

unsuccessful at it. Unfortunately, most of the blacks that have talked

to me about getting into the Republican party and doing something,

they are really, they expect a whole lot for nothing. And I tell them

that we can't out promise the Democrats, there is no way. We just can't

do it. I'm not going to lie to them. But all of them usually want money.

And I tell them that we don't have any money to give them. The state

party is supported by filing fees and contributions by people at the

county level and we don't have money to give them back. We have tried

in some cases to help some, particularly in Palm Beach County, and it




From the Southern Oral History Program, #4007, Interview 4-64 in the Southern Historical Collection,
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page 34


was unsuccessful. Palm Beach, Duval County, there's a tremendous black

population in Jacksonville and we have some good dedicated black

Republicans over there, but only a handful.

J.B.: Do you see more coming into the party or just staying where it is?

Thomas: No, I think that it is going to stay pretty well like it is. I

don't see anything that's going to entice them to come into the party.

And you know, I think that the Democrats, particularly in north Florida,

are so wrong about this and I think the blacks are wrong too, but both

are still bought and sold in north Florida. Right here in this county

and other counties across here, it's funny, you'd think that the Democrats

would catch on. But some of the candidates, say in the county commission

races and the sheriff's races and all buy some of the black votes. Some

of the black votes were sold in the last election in this county two and

three times. You know, it's ridiculous. And it is morally wrong to buy

votes, and it is just as wrong to sell one. I don't know which is worse,

but it still goes on. And the blacks make fun, I mean, the blacks laugh

at the Democratic candidates for buying the votes, because when they go

in the booth and close that curtain, who the hell knows how they vote.

J.B.: I guess that makes it a risky business.

Thomas: Yeah, but there is a lot of money spent on it. I'll tell you,

there was several thousand dollars spent in this county in 1972 buying

black votes and I know at least one candidate who really got taken. I

mean, spent a lot of money and they didn't deliver.

J.B.: Do you have anything else Walter?

W.D.V.: No, I don't think so. I'm sort of run down. This is about what?

Our seventh or eight interview today.

Thomas: Is that right?

J.B.: Fifth or sixth, somewhere in there.


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page 35


Thomas: Well, I'm sorry that you can't spend more time in Panama City.

W.D.V.: I'd like to.

J.B.: Is there anything else that you wanted to comment on that we

didn't ask?

Thomas: No, not that I know of.

W.D.V.: We'll probably come back to you after the election and check

your predictions against reality.

Thomas: O.K. (Laughter.)

W.D.V.: And see how much of it was bullshit. (Laughter.)

Thomas: Well, you know, in 1972 .

W.D.V.: And see how much was pure prophecy. That's about the choice

you have.

Thomas: In 1972, I called the primary right down to a gnat's eyebrow

and people in Washington didn't believe that and in September, before

the general election in November, I told them exactly what Nixon would

get and everybody made fun of me, particularly the Democrats, the said

that it would never happen. But I told them that we would get 72%

for Nixon and we got 71.91 and I'll settle for that all day long. But

that's why I say that Thomas can beat Askew, because 75% of the people

in Florida are conservatives and all we've got to do is prove to them

that Askew isn't .

W.D.V.: You're basing that on the '72 election returns?

Thomas; Yeah. The '72 general election and the Wallace thing. I mean,

it's just here and that's the way it is. And see, you know, I don't have

any crystal ball for my prediction in the '72 thing. I took the Wallace

vote in '68 and the Nixon vote in '68 and added the two together and

added 3% that McGovern was a fucking nut, you know. You've got to

think of that, and that's the way it turned out, you know.


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page 36


W.D.V.: Expletive deleted, huh?

Thomas: Yeah. (Laughter.)

J.B.: Well, I did want to ask you one more question and that is, do

you see Cramer playing any future role in the party in sofar as seeking

elective office?

Thomas: No. You know that old story, he's like the country girl that

went to town and found out that what she had been giving away for years

she could now sell. And Cramer is going to have to do a lot of explaining

to a lot of people about this, you might have read in the paper in the

last month or so, he's representing OEO now and they came to him and

wanted them to represent them and my God, if anybody doesn't believe in

OEO, it's Cramer and they asked him to quote them a figure and he gave

them a quote of $25,000 a month and thought that would get rid 6f them

and they hired him.

W.D.V.: Sounds like a good way to get rid of them.

Thomas: $25,000 a month, yeah. $25,000 a month retainer, how about that?

I told him that his philosophy didn't go very damn deep and everybody

has got his price, you know. (Laughter.) But I would imagine that

Cramer .

W.D.V.: I would think that would be a very effective way to eliminate

poverty. (Laughter.)

Thomas: And Smathers. There's no telling what Smathers will make as

a lobbyist-attorney now. You know, I'm guessing, but if Smathers doesn't

make a quarter of a million a year, he won't make a nickel. He can

peddle his influence and if you don't want to pay for it, then don't

bother.

J.B.: Why did you take this job as chairman? You said that you don't

get paid anything for it and how much time do you spend in a month


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working for the Republican party?

Thomas: Well, I probably spend about half time working at it.

I probably spend thirty hours a week, but because I number one,

because I want to see a strong Republican party, I want to see a strong

conservative party and you know, I want to see a two party system

established, because I know, you know, the benefits of having a two

party system, having lived in a two party state, you know, where you

have the checks and balances that we haven't had here. I mean, you

know, these guys in the cabinet over there, they've been protecting

each other for a hundred years. I mean, shit, they just didn't start

selling bank charters, they've been doing it for a hundred years. This

is nothing new. Well, if you had a strong two party system, you couldn't

do this type of thing.

J.B.: Have you ever run for office?

Thomas: No, except for the state chairman.

J.B.: Do you think that you might after you finish this?

Thomas: No, never. I don't even think like a candidate. This is hard

to believe, but I don't really like politics. I've had some of the

damnedest, knock-down fights that you've ever seen. And I'll tell you

something else, a lot of people don't believe it, but I spend more time

talking people out of running than I do talking people into running.

In '72, I tried to spend every Friday in the office and people called

in and they wanted to run for county commissioner and this and that, and

the first thing that I asked them was "Why?" And I wish that I had had

a tape recorder for some of the answers, because some of them were really

ridiculous. I mean, you know. I had a guy one time tell me that he wanted


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page 38


power. And I said, "My God, is that the only reason?" "yeah." I said,

"Well, you are wrong. If you serve the people, you are not going to have

any power. You've got the wrong idea. You shouldn't even consider running

for the county commission." And you have some real odd balls, you know,

that have freakish ideas. One thing for damn sure, there is no money in

politics if you're honest. There is no way. You've got to have some

other motivation, because you damn sure can't make any money out of it.

I don't care, you couldn't make any money being president if you are

honest. If the guy has got the money and the inclination, then great, but

I just hope that .

J.B.: What kind of people do you try to recruit?

Thomas: Well, you know it depends on the kind of job they are running

for, if it is a part time job or a full time one.

J.B.: Well, say that it is the legislature.

Thomas: Well, legislature you know, I think that we have got too

many lawyers in the legislature and I can get in all kinds of arguments

over just saying that. I think that it is true, we've got too many lawyers

and too many insurance men. I think that the kind of guy we ought to have

in the legislature is some kind of young guy that's on the way up or some

guy who has got it moderately made who can afford to serve over there

and have a free and open mind. But so many of them, we've got an awful

lot of them in our own party over there, we've got some good young people

and some of them aspire to higher office and that's great. I mean, they

are really dedicated. But then we've got some other guys that we're not

real proud of. And of course, there are some guys in the Democratic party

that they are not proud of. They've got some guys who have talked to me

about switching to the Republican party and I let them know that I didn't


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page 39


want them. Just didn't woo them. And I could have gotten some members

of the Democrat house right now to switch and I'm sure that the Democrats

would have applauded if We had been able to get them to switch. But we

didn't want.them, because unfortunately, there are a few people in the

legislature now that shouldn't be there. But you know, to run for the

state chairmanship, two things I doubt if I will ever do it again

and I probably wouldn't have done it in '70 if I hadn't been so damn mad

at Kirk for splitting the party and playing the part like he did ..

(End of tape.)


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